Northern composure

Pub date August 15, 2006
WriterAri Messer
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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Four years ago, a high school junior named Britney Gallivan managed to fold a piece of paper in half 12 times, surpassing the eight-fold limit with a 4,000-foot-long piece of special toilet paper. For this girl, origami became more than paper frogs, cootie catchers, and hope-giving cranes. But those cranes are still essential. The four sprightly members of Shapes and Sizes do a lot of musical origami and showy unfolding on their self-titled debut. They make cranes with at least two heads, constantly pulling in multiple directions: toward fairy tales and woodsy rock, unexpected bursts and clap-along accents.
Shapes and Sizes fit on the energetic Asthmatic Kitty roster, but I wouldn’t have expected it. Neither did the band. “We sent out around 50 demos, and three or four labels responded. Asthmatic Kitty got back to us quickly and were excited,” said vocalist-guitarist Rory Seydel and vocalist-keyboardist Caila Thompson-Hannant, speaking at the same time on a conference call from Victoria, British Columbia.
“It took a while, though, to get to where we are now with them,” Seydel added. “We met up with the heads of the label while we were on tour, and they agreed to produce the album.”
“The whole process took a year,” Thompson-Hannant chimed in.
The full-length is the demo, unchanged. Some of the songs had been living in their heads for years. Old high school friends, Thompson-Hannant and Seydel wrote the first Shapes and Sizes ditties when they were only 18. “It’s a long departure. I think we’ve grown up a little,” laughed Seydel, who just turned 22.
When they headed into Victoria’s Lucky Mouse Studios — also home to Frog Eyes — Shapes and Sizes planned on recording a seven-song EP. But, said Thompson-Hannant, they decided to “really go to town,” laying down some tunes that they’d never even practiced and adding a cavalcade of other instruments, from saxophones to vibraphones, trumpets to violas. With the help of Frog Eyes engineer Tolan McNeil, they achieved a panoramic sound.
They will not be touring with a horn section, said Seydel, but that’s fine, since they can just turn up their guitars “really loud.”
He’s only half kidding. Their show tunes–influenced melodies are designed to expand in the live environment, a giddy indie-rock cabaret. The youthful duo cuts, collages, and boldly displays myriad shapes of stories and sizes of sounds, as drummer Jon Crellin and bassist Nathan Gage add rhythmic color to this melodic union. Because they play almost exclusively originals (save for a cover of the Magnetic Fields’ “Come Back from San Francisco” last Valentine’s Day), their songs continue to morph in front of their eyes and they are constantly working on new material.
“It seems like the songs are always changing,” said Thompson-Hannant with the same sense of awe that lifts her singing. “I’ve come undone … another wire linked up to my heart,” she croons on “Northern Lights.” Seydel joins this dramatic unraveling on the Pavement-influenced “Rory’s Bleeding,” singing a cappella at the start: “Why is Rory bleeding?/ Placed between black and white/ Phew, I was dreaming/ I couldn’t see his eyes.”
Shapes and Sizes inhabit a delightfully brisk and very bright way-Northern version of Architecture in Helsinki’s Australia. A deeply collective energy is present on both bands’ debuts, but it’s only in hearing Architecture’s greatest achievement, In Case We Die (Bar/None, 2005), that their earlier efforts appear as the treasure maps that they are, diagrams on origami paper about to become 3-D unicorns. It’s a sure bet that Shapes and Sizes too will continue to expand. Inside their paper cranes are the scribbled notes of castaways happily ignoring borders and ready to hitch a ride. SFBG
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